"Into Arizona"

From the age of four, in my little girl cowboy boots, I followed my "rockhound" father up and down the hills and canyons of southern Arizona between Tucson and the Mexican border. Tripping over rocks, dodging cacti and whining for Daddy to carry me sometimes, and he always did, we trudged along looking for mineral specimens in secret locations. I followed along as he would always say, “were just going up here a little ways”, and on we went throughout the day, often resting in the shade of a mesquite tree when it was hot. We saw lots of rattle snakes, gila monsters, coyotes, coatimondi, bobcats and even wild burros. As we traipsed along I enjoyed the scents, light, colors, sounds and textures of the desert that I have grown to love so much.

We spent hours winding down dusty back roads in the old pick up truck, opening and closing ranchers gates and prying our way through barbed wire fences. My dad hated gates and fences. He thought no one had the right to keep anyone from going where they wanted to go. He always went where he wanted to go even if there were signs posted “Keep Out”. No one ever caught us, we were in the wild open spaces of "the great southwest", having a wonderful time. We even made a family pet out of one of those wild burros who was actually very friendly allowing us to put a rope around it’s neck to be lead around with my little brother Johnny and me on it’s back. Later we also raised an abandoned baby bobcat until it was two years old. It was great fun.

For a little over two years, from 1956 to 1958, I lived with my family at the “Glove Mine”, in southeastern Arizona. The mine is located at the southwestern end of the Santa Rita Mountains, near Amado, in the Tyndall Mining District of Cottonwood Canyon. The mine derived its name from its general shape of a glove. The mine's deep underground cavity was at one time filled with incredible wulfenite crystals. This formation, known as a vug, (a cavity in rock lined with mineral crystals), is the result of deep magma chambers pushing up towards the surface of the permian limestone layer which created tubes or chimneys. This area was at one time under a sea, as well as being in an intersection fault plane, and over time the pockets filled and drained with water and minerals, again and again, forming the crystal lined cavities. My father, F.G. Mack and his brother Edward Mack, who was part owner at the time, were working in the mine to extract the precious wulfenite crystals that lined the glove shaped cavity. We lived in a small cement block house just up the hill from the entrance to the mine tunnel. The mine was carved into the hillside and at the back end a deep shaft went straight down into the ground. I can still remember the smell of the carbide lamps that they wore on their hats and the feeling of the cool air from the dark, dank shaft. I could go inside the tunnel but I was not allowed to go down into the shaft to the deep hole.

They brought up many beautiful wulfenite specimens. At home I remember stacks of boxes filled with the valuable crystals, carefully wrapped in cotton, waiting to be sold or traded at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show. This trading went on for several years. The finest crystals that they found were sold to Albert and Bernie Haag, well known mineral collectors from Tucson and parents of Robert Haag, meteorite collector, Zee Haag, mineral collector and Terri Haag, author and archeologist. Albert and Bernie then sold the wulfenite specimens to The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Department of Mineral Sciences Collections, www.mineralsciences.si.edu. You can see the database of that wulfenite collection when you type in, Glove Mine wulfenite, on their Mineral Sciences Collection Search page.

When it was time for me to go to school, we moved from the mine into the nearby small community of Amado. I had to ride a bus to a small two room school house down a long country road. That year a small single engine airplane crashed into our house, nearly killing my mother and me. At age six I was just a bit too young to appreciate such a near death experience. We then moved to Tucson where my father took a job with the railroad. During the weekends he would still love to venture out searching for treasure from some treasure story he had read in Arizona Highways or mineral specimens that he thought might be in a certain location. I was with him when he unearthed an incredible aquamarine crystal after blasting a hole in the ground near the Twin Buttes Mine just south of Tucson when I was twelve. He had a piece of it faceted and set in gold for my mother. It was beautiful. While he worked in the ground, I was off exploring the desert by myself. I loved to play in the washes. I would dig in the cool sand feeling the crushed granite and quartz in my hands and watching the tiny crystals glitter in the sun. My addiction to sparkling rocks was well under way.

Later these experiences inspired me to want to learn the jewelry arts. I was already in love with rocks and wanted to do my own thing with them. By the age of twenty one, while attending The University Of Arizona in the fine arts program, I took a little trip down to Bisbee Arizona, ninety miles southeast of Tucson, during winter break. It was at that time that I found myself in a place that was very interesting and very creative. In 1972, Bisbee was, and still is, a charming little community filled with artists and I wanted to move there more than anything else, so I did. I was already a painter and I wanted to learn to work with copper and silver and how to cut stones. I purchased a set of silversmithing tools and a lapidary unit and began to teach myself. I still use the same tools today, however I am now on my third lapidary unit. There was allot of Bisbee turquoise available at that time because the Copper Queen Mine was still in operation. You could buy it from the "night time dump raiders", guys that would brave the mine tailings in the middle of the night with a flashlight and a blanket for cover, all very illegal of course. The next day they would go around to all the silversmiths to see if they wanted to by any of the lovely blue stones. “Bisbee Blue” was everywhere and cheep. When I think of the beautiful stones that I cut and set in my early settings, I just cringe! Just try to find that stuff now. I purchased my first house in Bisbee way up on the hill behind the Copper Queen Hotel. Real estate was very inexpensive there back then. I also bought a second house across from the court house in Tombstone Canyon. It had seventy four steps up to the front door from the street and walking up the steps was the only way to get to the house. At that time I was often up and down those steps several times a day. My first child learned to walk and navigate those steps in that home. Each morning one of the wild burros that roamed the hills above town would come down near my back yard and "heehaw" over and over again. I loved it. Bisbee was and still is a trippy little town. It was there that I began my adventure in the lapidary and jewelry arts, first selling in crafts fairs, then opening a small gallery shop in Brewery Gulch with two other artists in the mid 1970's. I left Bisbee in 1978 for Washington State but there is still a soft spot in my heart for that lovely little town.

While living in Washington for six years, I sold my work in several places. I moved back to Tucson in 1984 and began regularly searching the gem shows for rocks, crystals and mineral specimens to cut. I found a gallery right away and started selling my jewelry again. After years of cutting all kinds of material and learning difficult inlay work, I have found that my favorite stones to work with are beautiful natural drusy crystals. They require much less cutting. They are like tiny sparkling sugar crystals that form on the surface of a rock as a crust or in veins or cavities. Drusy formations come in a variety of colors with a vast array of mineral content and from many locations worldwide. Cutting them can be challenging because they are very lovely and you want to save as much of the specimen as you can. Some drusy agates are extremely hard and very difficult to cut, while other specimens are delicate with fracture plains and other crystal inclusions. I will purchase a chunk of rock with a drusy crust or cavity then proceed to cut the drusy surface away from the mother rock with my slab-trim saw. The first cut is always the hardest. Sometimes you’re not quite sure where to begin. Often the rock has to be studied. I leave enough of the mother rock under the crystal formation so that it has a stable base for setting. Then I just trim the edges in freeform shapes. I also love cutting and setting many other chunky crystals such as amethyst, citrine and a host of others. After cutting my stones, I store them in glass stone cases by individual categories.

I love searching the rock shops and gem shows for treasures that spark my imagination. I look for colors and textures that are pleasing to my eye, gathering rough rock, crystal specimens, faceted and cabochon cut stones, stone beads and pearls. I also enjoy learning as much as I can about all of the stones that I use in my work, as you can read on my Geological page. I love the combination of a drusy crystal set with a faceted stone and a cabochon cut stone in complementary shapes of monochromatic or complementary colors. It‘s an interesting grouping of color, cut and texture. I also like setting faceted stones in bezel settings because it better protects the stone, allowing it to stay clean and full of sparkle. It also creates a more sumptuous setting. I love pairing drusy with gold and gold on silver, it just seems so fitting, so pretty and colorful. I love simple lines and hammered texture. The challenge is working with all of the components to put together an interesting and wearable design. See all of my work in the Jewelry Gallery pages. I spend hours doing sketches for many pieces at a time before I actually start the work. I most often work on eighteen to twenty pieces at a time. I like making a sires or exhausting an idea and then laying it to rest and moving on to the next. Choosing stones, cutting stones, sketching designs and doing metal fabrication are all of the things that I love to do with what has been a life long interest and passion.

Sometimes life is strange, you don’t know why you’re living at a mine when you’re four and five years old, or traipsing all over the hot desert in your cowboy boots, watching out for snakes, or why you walk with your head always looking on the ground for something unusual. Eventually it all makes sense and you realize that you are right where you’re supposed to be, right where you were led to be and right where you want to be, doing what you know and love.

Marilyn Mack

2 150:7 150:med Dad 013
Our pet burro, bobcat and Dad with my little brother Johnny at the Glove Mine in the late 1950's.

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